Operation Battle of Narva

The 'Battle of Narva' was fought between Soviet and German forces as February to 10 August 1944, in which General (from 18 June Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza) Leonid A. Govorov’s Leningrad Front and General Johannes Friessner’s (from 3 July General Anton Grasser’s Armeegruppe 'Narwa' (from May the Armeeabteilung 'Narwa' and from 25 September the Armeeabteilung 'Grasser') for possession of the strategically important Narva isthmus (2 February/10 August 1944).

The battle took place in the northern sector of the Eastern Front and comprised two major phases: the 'Battle of the Narva Bridgehead' (February/July 1944) and the 'Battle of the Tannenberg Line' (July/August 1944). The Soviet 'Kingisepp-Gdov Offensive Operation' and 'Narva Offensive Operation' (15/18 February, 1/4 March and 18/24 March) were part of the Soviet winter and spring campaign of 1944. Following Iosif Stalin’s 'broad-front' strategy, these battles coincided with the 'Dniepr River-Carpathian Offensive Operation' (December 1943/April 1944) and the 'Lvov-Sandomierz Offensive Operation' (July/August 1944). A number of foreign volunteers and local Estonian conscripts participated in the battle as part of the German forces of Generaloberst Georg Lindemann’s (from 1 July Generaloberst Johannes Friessner’s and from 25 July Generalfeldmarschall Ferdinand Schörner’s Heeresgruppe 'Nord'. By supporting the German conscription of Estonians, the underground National Committee of the Republic of Estonia hoped to create the basis of a new national army and to restore the country’s independence.

As a continuation of the 'Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive Operation' of January 1944, the Soviet offensive toward Estonia drove the northern end of the Eastern Front westward to the Narva river with the object of destroying the Armeegruppe 'Narwa' and thrusting deep into Estonia. Soviet formations and units established a number of bridgeheads on the western bank of the Narva river during February, while the Germans maintained a bridgehead on the eastern bank, but subsequent Soviet attempts to expand their toeholds failed. German counterattacks destroyed the bridgeheads to the north of Narva and reduced the size of the bridgehead to the south of the town, thereby stabilising the front until July 1944. The Soviet 'Narva Offensive Operation' (July 1944) led to the capture of the city after the German forces had pulled back to their prepared defences of the 'Tannenberg-Linie' in the Sinimäed Hills, some 10 miles (16 km) from Narva. In the resulting 'Battle of the Tannenberg-Linie', the Armeeabteilung 'Narwa' held its ground, and Stalin’s primary strategic objective, namely the rapid recapture of Estonia as a base for air and seaborne attacks against Finland and an invasion of East Prussia, was not achieved. As a result of the Germans' excellent defence, the Soviet war effort in the Baltic Sea region was hampered for 7.5 months.

The nature of the terrain played a significant role in the operations round Narva. The elevation above sea level in the area is rarely more than 330 ft (100 m), and the land is cut by numerous waterways, including the Narva river and the Plyussa river. Most of the region’s land area is forested, and large swamps inundate areas of low elevation. The effect of the terrain on operations was therefore one of 'channelisation': because of the swamps and forests, only certain areas were suitable for large-scale troop movement.

At the strategic level, there was a natural chokepoint between the northern shore of Lake Peipus and the Gulf of Finland. This strip of land, 28 miles (45 km) wide, was bisected by the Narva river and included large wilderness areas. The primary lines of communication, which were the road and railway linking Narva and Tallinn, ran on an east/west axis close to and parallel with the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland. There were no other east/west transport routes in the region capable of sustaining major troop movements.

On 14 January 1944, the Leningrad Front had launched the 'Krasnoye Selo-Ropsha Offensive Operation' intended to force Generaloberst Georg Lindemann’s (from 29 March General Herbert Loch’s and from 5 September General Ehrenfried-Oskar Boege’s) 18th Army back from its positions near Oranienbaum. On the third day of the offensive, the Soviets broke through the German line and pushed to the west, and Heeresgruppe 'Nord' ordered the evacuation of the civilian population of Narva.

By 1944, it had become routine practice for the Stavka to assign new and more ambitious missions to its operating fronts even as they were undertaking major offensive operations: the rationale was that relentless pressure might trigger a German collapse. For the 1943/1944 winter campaign, Stalin ordered the Soviet forces to conduct major attacks along the whole of the Eastern Front, in a continuation of the 'broad-front' strategy he had pursued since the beginning of the war. This was in accord with Stalin’s long-standing belief that the application of Soviet pressure along the entire front might cause the German defence to break in at least one sector. The Soviet winter campaign included major assaults along the entire length of the front in Ukraine, Belorussia and the German 'Panther-Linie' in the Baltic Sea region.

Breaking through the Narva isthmus, between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Peipus, was of major strategic importance to the Soviets, for success in this Estonian operation would provide an unobstructed line of advance along the coast to Tallinn, forcing Heeresgruppe 'Nord' to exit Estonia lest it be cut off. For Admiral Vladimir F. Tributs’s Baltic Fleet, trapped in an eastern bay of the Gulf of Finland, Tallinn was the closest exit to the Baltic Sea. The ejection of Heeresgruppe 'Nord' from Estonia would also leave Finland more vulnerable to air and amphibious attacks from Estonian bases and harbours. The prospect of an invasion of East Prussia through Estonia appealed even more to Stavka, as it could bring German resistance to a standstill. With the participation of Govorov and Tributs, the commanders of the Leningrad Front and Baltic Fleet respectively, a scheme was prepared for the destruction of Heeresgruppe 'Nord'. Stalin ordered the capture of Narva at all costs: 'It is mandatory that our forces seize Narva no later than 17 February 1944. This is required both for military as well as political reasons. It is the most important thing right now. I demand that you undertake all necessary measures to liberate Narva no later than the period indicated.'

After the failure of the Leningrad Front, Stalin issued a new order on 22 February: to break through the defences of the Narva isthmus, deliver a shock blow at Pärnu, eliminate the German forces in Estonia, direct two armies toward south-eastern Estonia, press forward through Latvia, and open the road to East Prussia and thus central Europe. On the same day, the USSR presented Finland with peace conditions. While Finland regarded the terms as unacceptable, the war waging round them appeared dangerous enough to keep the Finns negotiating and, in order to exert pressure on Finland, Stalin needed to take Estonia. His wish became an order to the commanders of the Leningrad Front, with their heads at stake. After the area had received Soviet reinforcements in March 1944, the Narva front possessed the highest concentration of forces at any point on the Eastern Front.

Three Soviet armies were deployed at the maximum concentration of forces in March 1944. General Leytenant Ivan I. Fedyuninsky’s 2nd Shock Army was located in the area to the north of Narva, General Leytenant Ivan T. Korovnikov’s 59th Army was positioned to the south of Narva, and General Leytenant Filipp N. Starikov’s 8th Army in the area to the south of the 59th Army, along the 48-mile (77-km) length of the Narva river between the Baltic Sea coast and the northern end of Lake Peipus. It had been estimated that the number of Soviet troops involved in the 'Battle of Narva' was 205,000 men. The 2nd Shock Army had the XLIII, CIX and CXXIV Corps, the 59th Army the CXVII and CXXII Corps, and the 8th Army the VI and CXII Corps, and other formations involved as separate corps were the VIII Estonian Corps, the XIV Corps, the XXX Guards Corps, the III Breakthrough Artillery Corps, the III Guards Tank Corps, the 46th, 260th and 261st Separate Guards Heavy Tank Battalions, and the 1902nd Separate Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment.

At the start of the 'Narva Offensive Operation' in July 1944, the Leningrad Front deployed 136,830 men, 150 tanks, 2,500 assault guns and more than 800 aircraft.

The Oberkommando des Heeres fully appreciated that the stabilisation of the front on the Narva river was crucial. A Soviet breakthrough here would mean the loss of the northern coast of Estonia and with it loss of control of the Gulf of Finland, giving the Baltic Fleet access to the Baltic Sea. A break-out by the Baltic Fleet would thus threaten German control of the entire Baltic Sea and the shipment of iron ore imports from Sweden. The loss of Narva would have meant fuel derived from the adjacent Kohtla-Järve oil shale deposits, on the coast 20 miles (32 km) to the west of Narva, would be denied to the German war machine. As Lindemann said in his daily order to Generalleutnant Hellmuth Reymann’s 11th Division, 'We are standing on the border of our native land. Every step backwards will carry the war through the air and water to Germany.'

Even as Finland was negotiating peace with the USSR, the Oberkommando des Heeres concentrated on the Narva front, using every means to convince the Finns that the German defences were going to hold. The German command informed its Finnish counterpart in detail about the events on the Narva front while a delegation of the Finnish defence command visited Narva in the spring of 1944. Beside being a narrow corridor well suited for defence, the terrain in the area of Narva was dominated by forests and swamps. Directly behind the Narva river lay the city city of Narva, ideally positioned as a bastion from which defending forces could influence combat to both the north and the south of the city along the river valley.

This position was the northern segment of the 'Panther-Linie', was where von Küchler wished to base the defence of his Heeresgruppe 'Nord'. Hitler initially refused and replaced von Küchler with Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model, who agreed with his predecessor and, as one of Hitler’s favourites, was also granted more operational freedom. Using that freedom to his advantage, Model managed to fall back and begin establishing a line along the Narva river, with a strong bridgehead on the river’s eastern bank in Ivangorod. This last appeased Hitler, and followed the German standard operating procedure for defending a river line. On 1 February 1944, Heeresgruppe 'Nord' tasked General Otto Sponheimer’s Gruppe 'Sponheimer', which was redesignated as Friessner’s Armeeabteilung 'Narwa' on 23 February, to defend at all costs the segment of the 'Panther-Linie' along the isthmus between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Peipus. After the initial Soviet success, Stalin presented Finland with his peace terms on 8 February, but after the tactical victories of the Armeeabteilung 'Narwa' between the middle of February and April, Finland terminated the negotiations on 18 April 1944.

During the German occupation of Estonia, Estonian expectations of regaining independence began to diminish. Pursuant to the Constitution of Estonia, formally still in force, Estonian politicians formed an underground National Committee of the Republic of Estonia, which convened on 14 February 1944. As President Konstantin Päts was imprisoned by the Soviet authorities, the acting head of state, according to the constitution, was the former prime minister, Jüri Uluots. The German-appointed Estonian self-administration had previously made several unsuccessful general mobilisation calls, which were illegal under The Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907) and opposed by Uluots. In February 1944, however, when the Leningrad Front reached the vicinity of Narva and the Soviet return became a real threat, Uluots switched his stand on the German draft. In a radio speech on 7 February, Uluots reasoned that armed Estonians could become useful against both Germans and Soviets. He also hinted that Estonian troops on Estonian soil would have: '…a significance much wider than what I could and would be able to disclose here'. Along with other Estonian politicians, Uluots saw resistance against the Soviet forces as a means of preventing the restoration of Soviet power and also of restoring Estonia’s independence after the war. The conscription call received popular support and the mobilisation raised a force of 38,000 men, who were formed into seven border guard regiments and the fictitiously designated as SS-Brigadeführer under Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Franz Augsberger (from 19 March SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Berthold Maack’s) 20th Waffen-Grenadierdivision der SS (estnische Nr 1). In combination with Everstiluutnantti Eino Kuusela’s 200th Jalkaväkirykmentti (infantry regiment) of Estonians would had escaped from their native land and volunteered for the Finnish army and the conscripts within other Waffen-SS formations and unit, a total of 70,000 Estonian troops were under German arms in 1944.

In February 1944, General Wilhelm Wegener’s L Corps, Sponheimer’s LIV Corps and long with SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Felix Steiner’s III SS Panzerkorps (germanisches) were located on the left flank of the 18th Army as they retreated to Narva. On 4 February, the Gruppe 'Sponheimer' was released from the 18th Army and subordinated directly to Heeresgruppe 'Nord'. In support of the forces already in place, Hitler ordered reinforcements to this sector of the front. Generalleutnant Otto Kohlermann’s (from 3 April Generalmajor Friedrich-Carl von Steinkeller’s Panzergrenadierdivision 'Feldherrnhalle', with more than 10,000 men and their equipment, was airlifted from Belorussia into Estonia via the airfield at Tartu on 1 February. A week later, one battalion of Generalleutnant Hasso von Manteuffel’s Panzergrenadierdivision 'Grossdeutschland' reached the front. The Grenadierregiment 'Gnesen', which was an extemporised unit formed from replacement army units in Poland, was sent from Germany and arrived on 11 February. Three days later, Generalleutnant Max Horn (from 28 March Generalleutnant Harry von Kirchbach’s) 214th Division was transferred from Norway.

Over the next two weeks, a number of other units were added to the group, including SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Fritz Scholz’s 11th SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadierdivision 'Nordland', several German army divisions, the Estonian division, local Estonian border guard battalions and Estonian auxiliary police battalions. Sponheimer was replaced by Friessner and the Gruppe 'Sponheimer' thereby became the Armeeabteilung 'Narwa' on 23 February. One day earlier, Heeresgruppe 'Nord' ordered the deployment of the imminent Armeeabteilung 'Narwa' in the following positions: the III SS Panzerkorps at Narva, in the Ivangorod bridgehead on the river’s eastern bank and to the north of Narva; the XLIII Corps against the Krivasoo bridgehead to the south of Narva; and the XXVI Corps in the sector between the Krivasoo bridgehead and Lake Peipus. As of 1 March 1944, there were a total of 123,541 men in the Armeeabteilung 'Narva', deployed as Steiner’s III SS Panzerkorps (11th SS-Panzergrenadierdivision 'Nordland', 4th SS-Panzergrenadierbrigade 'Nederland' and 20th Waffen-Grenadierdivision der Waffen-SS); Grasser’s XXVI Corps (11th Division, 58th Division, 214th Division, 225th Division and, from 15 April, 3rd Estonian Border Guard Regiment); and von Oven’s XLIII Corps (601st Division, 170th Division, 227th Division, Panzergrenadierdivision 'Feldherrnhalle' and Grenadierregiment 'Gnesen').

Separate units included, for coastal defence in the eastern sector under the control of Generalleutnant Alfon Luczny’s 2nd Flakdivision, the Estonian Regiment 'Reval', three Estonian police battalions and two Estonian eastern battalions. Other German elements were Generalmajor Wilhelm Metger’s 113rd Artilleriekommandeur, the 32nd Höherer Pionierkommandeur, the 502nd schwere Panzerabteilung, the 752nd Panzerjägerabteilung and the 540th Feldersatzbataillon.

In the summer of 1944, the Panzergrenadierdivision 'Feldherrnhalle' and seven infantry divisions were removed from the Narva front, leaving 22,250 men to hold this sector.

Launching the 'Kingisepp-Gdov Offensive Operation' on 1 February, the 2nd Shock Army’s CIX Corps, commanded by General Major Ivan P. Alferov, captured Kingisepp on the first day. The 18th Army was driven back into new positions on the eastern bank of the Narva river. Leading elements of the 2nd Shock Army crossed the river and established several bridgeheads on the western bank to the north and south of Narva on 2 February. The 2nd Shock Army expanded the bridgehead in the Krivasoo Swamp to the south of Narva five days later, temporarily cutting the railway link between Narva and Tallinn behind the III SS Panzerkorps. Govorov was unable to encircle the smaller Gruppe 'Sponheimer, which called in reinforcements. These came mostly from the newly mobilised Estonians, motivated by the threat of a Soviet reoccupation of their country. At the same time, the CVIII Corps landed units across Lake Peipus some 75 miles (120 km) to the south of Narva and established a beach-head around the village of Meerapalu. By a coincidence, the 1/Waffen-Grenadierregiment der SS 45 'Estland' (estnische Nr 1), which was moving toward Narva, reached the same area. A battalion of the 44th Infanterieregiment, the Estonian battalion and German aircraft destroyed the Soviet beach-head on 15/16 February. This 'Mereküla Landing Operation' behind the Gruppe 'Sponheimer' had been undertaken by the 517-man 260th Independent Naval Infantry Brigade, which was almost completely destroyed.

General Leytenant Nikolai P. Simoniak’s XXX Guards Corps and General Major Voldemar F. Damberg’s CXXIV Corps launched a new 'Narva Offensive Operation' on 15 February. The resistance by units of the Gruppe 'Sponheimer' exhausted the Soviet forces, which halted their offensive. Each side used the pause to summon additional forces. The fresh 45th Waffen-Grenadierregiment der SS 'Estland' (estnische Nr 1) and 46th Waffen-Grenadierregiment der SS (estnische Nr 2), accompanied by units of the 11th SS Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadierdivision 'Nordland' had destroyed the Soviet bridgeheads to the north of Narva by 6 March. Korovnikov’s newly arrived 59th Army attacked to the west from the Krivasoo Swamp and encircled the strongpoints of the 214th Division and the Estonian 658th and 659th Eastern Battalions. The resistance of the encircled units gave the German command time to bring forward all available forces and to stop the 59th Army’s advance.

A Soviet air raid levelled the historic city of Narva on 6 March, and a combined air attack and an artillery bombardment of 100,000 shells and grenades on the elements of the 11th SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierdivision 'Nordland' and the 11th SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierdivision 'Nederland' in Ivangorod prepared the way for the attack of the XXX Guards Corps on 8 March. Simultaneous pitched battles took place to the north of the town, where the XIV Corps, supported by the artillery of the VIII Estonian Corps, attempted to re-establish a bridgehead. Regiments of the 20th Waffen Grenadierdivision der SS (estnische Nr 1) beat off the Soviet attacks, which cost the Soviets heavy losses.

Soviet air assaults against civilians in Estonian towns were a part of the offensive, aimed at forcing the Estonians away from supporting the German side. The Soviet Long-Range Aviation attacked Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, on the night of 8/9 March, destroying some 40% of the city’s housing stock and leaving 25,000 people homeless; About 500 civilians were also killed. The result of the air raid was the opposite of what the Soviets intended, however, as the Estonians were strongly angered by the Soviet atrocities, and more men answered the German conscription call.

The Soviet tank attack at Auvere station was stopped by a squadron of the 502nd schwere Panzerabteilung on 17 March, but the Soviet offensive continued for another week until the Soviet forces had suffered losses heavy enough to persuade them to switch to the defensive. This enabled the Armeeabteilung 'Narwa' to take the initiative.

The Gruppe 'von Strachwitz' (11th Division, 170th Division, 227th Division and a number of tank units) annihilated the spearhead of the 8th Army at the western end of the Krivasoo bridgehead on 26 March, and then the eastern tip of the bridgehead on 6 April. Generalmajor Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Camminetz, encouraged by this success, tried to eliminate the whole bridgehead but was unable to proceed as a result of the spring thaw, which had rendered the swamp area impassable by the PzKpfw VI Tiger I heavy tanks. By the end of April, both sides had exhausted their strengths, and a period of relative calm settled over the front until a time late in July 1944.

The Soviet breakthroughs in the 'Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation' and the 'Vyborg-Petrozavodsk Offensive Operation' forced Heeresgruppe 'Nord' to withdraw much of its strength from Narva to the central part of the Eastern Front and to Finland. As there were insufficient forces for the defence of the former front line at Narva in July, the Germans began preparations for a withdrawal to the 'Tannenberg-Linie' defences in the Sinimäed hills 10 miles (16 km) to the west of Narva. The Leningrad Front’s command staff was unaware of these German preparations, and planned a new 'Narva Offensive Operation'. Shock troops from the Finnish front were concentrated near the town, giving the Leningrad Front a 4/1 superiority in both manpower and equipment. Before the German forces had implemented their plan to pull back, the 8th Army launched its offensive in the 'Battle of Auvere'. The 1/45th Waffen-Grenadierregiment der SS 'Estland' (estnische Nr 1) and the 44th Infanterieregiment repulsed the Soviet attack, inflicting heavy losses on the 8th Army. The detachments of the 11th SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierdivision 'Nordland' and 23rd SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierdivision 'Nederland' (niederlandische Nr 1) in Ivangorod left their positions quietly during the night before 25 July, and the evacuation proceeded as planned until the 2nd Shock Army resumed the offensive in the morning. Supported by 280,000 shells and grenades from 1,360 assault guns, the army crossed the river in the area to the north of the town. The 2/45th Waffen-Grenadierregiment der SS 'Estland' (estnische Nr 1) kept the 2nd Shock Army from capturing the highway behind the retreating troops, but the defensive operation led to the destruction of the 48th SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierregiment 'General Seyffard' of Dutch volunteers as a result of tactical errors. The Soviets captured Narva on 26 July.

In the van of the Soviet forces, the 201st Division and 256th Division attacked the 'Tannenberg-Linie' and captured part of the Orphanage hill, the easternmost elevation of the area. The anti-tank company of the 24th SS Panzergrenadierregiment 'Danmark' retook the hill during the following night. The III SS Panzerkorps repulsed later Soviet armoured attempts to capture the hills on the next day. The 11th SS-Panzer-Aufklärungsabteilung and the 1/47th Waffen Grenadierregiment (estnische Nr 3) launched a counterattack during the night before 28 July. The assault collapsed under the weight of Soviet tank fire, which destroyed the Estonian battalion. In a pitched battle which raged without let into the following day, the two Soviet armies forced the Armeeabteilung 'Narwa' into new positions on Grenadier hill, the central unit of the hill complex.

The climax of the 'Battle of the Tannenberg-Linie' was the Soviet attack of 29 July. The shock units suppressed the German resistance on Orphanage hill, while the Soviet main forces suffered heavy casualties in the subsequent assault on Grenadier hill. The Soviet tanks encircled it and the westernmost Tower hill. Steiner, commander of the III SS Panzerkorps, sent out the remaining seven tanks, which hit the surprised Soviet armour and forced it back. This enabled an improvised Kampfgruppe, led by SS-Hauptsturmführer Paul Maitla, to launch a counterattack that retook Grenadier hill. Of the 136,830 Soviets initiating the offensive on 25 July, a mere few thousands remained fit for combat by 1 August. The Soviet tank regiments had been demolished.

Swiftly reinforced, the two Soviet armies continued their attacks. The Stavka demanded the destruction of the Armeeabteilung 'Narwa' and the capture of Rakvere by 7 August. The 2nd Shock Army was back to a strength of 20,000 men by 2 August, while numerous attempts using unchanged tactics failed to break the multi-national defence of the Armeeabteilung 'Narwa'. Govorov, commander of the Leningrad Front, ended the offensive on 10 August.

During the Soviet era, the losses in the 'Battle of Narva' were not released, but in more recent times Russian authors have published some figures, although not for the whole course of the battles. The overall number of Soviet casualties can therefore be estimated only indirectly.

The Armeeabteilung 'Narwa' lost 23,963 men killed, wounded or missing during February 1944. During the following months, through to 30 July 1944, an additional 34,159 German personnel were lost, 5,748 of them killed and 1,179 missing. The total German casualties during the initial phase of the campaign was in the order of 58,000 men, 12,000 of them killed or missing. Between 24 July and 10 August 1944, the Germans lost 1,709 men killed in Estonia. Adding the troops missing in action, the number of dead in the period is estimated at 2,500. Accounting the standard ratio of 1/4 of the wounded as irrecoverable losses, the number of German casualties in the later period of the battle was approximately 10,000. The total German casualties during the 'Battle of Narva' is estimated at 14,000 killed or missing and 54,000 wounded or sick.

On 1 September, Finland announced the cessation of military co-operation with Germany to sign an armistice with the USSR, and three days later Finland opened access for the Soviets to Finnish waters. With the Soviet offensive at Riga threatening to complete its encirclement, Heeresgruppe 'Nord' started preparations for the withdrawal of troops from Estonia in 'Aster', with the possible transportation corridors thoroughly prepared on maps. On 17 September 1944, a naval force under Vizeadmiral Theodor Burchardi began the evacuation of parts of the German formations and Estonian civilians. Within six days, some 50,000 troops and 1,000 prisoners had been removed, and the elements of the 18th Army in Estonia were ordered to pull back into Latvia.

The Soviet 1st, 2nd and 3rd Baltic Fronts launched their 'Baltic Offensive Operation' on 14 September with the object of cutting off Heeresgruppe 'Nord' in Estonia. After much argument, Hitler agreed to allow the evacuation of all forces in mainland Estonia. The 2nd Shock Army launched its 'Tallinn Offensive Operation' on 17 September from the Emajõgi river front in southern Estonia. At 00.00 on 18 September, the Armeeabteilung 'Narwa' left its positions in the 'Tannenberg-Linie'. 8th Army reconnaissance reported the evacuation five hours after it had been completed, and the Soviets began to pursue the German forces toward Estonian harbours and the Latvian border. The III SS Panzerkorps had reached Pärnu by 20 September, while General Wilhelm Hasse’s II Corps retreated to the south to form the 18th Army's rearguard. The Soviet forces advanced to take Tallinn on 22 September, and by 24 September had demolished the harbour at Haapsalu. The III SS Panzerkorps evacuated Vormsi island just off the coast on the following day, successfully completing the evacuation of mainland Estonia with only minor casualties. The 8th Army went on to take the remaining islands of the West Estonian archipelago in the 'Moonsund Landing Operation'. The 'Baltic Offensive Operation' had thus led to the expulsion of all German forces from Estonia, a large part of Latvia and Lithuania.

During the withdrawal from Estonia, the German command released thousands of Estonian conscripts from military service. The Soviets started to conscript Baltic natives as areas were brought under Soviet control. While some served on both sides, thousands joined the Forest Brothers partisan detachments to avoid conscription.

The overland lines of communication of Heeresgruppe 'Nord' were permanently severed from Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' and the army group was now relegated to the Kurland pocket, a Baltic coastal area of Latvia. On 25 January 1945, Hitler renamed Heeresgruppe 'Nord' as Heeresgruppe 'Kurland', implicitly realising that there was no possibility of restoring a new land corridor between Kurland and East Prussia. Limited Soviet forces began the encirclement and reduction of the pocket, enabling the majority of the Soviet strength to focus on operations toward East Prussia. Heeresgruppe 'Kurland' nonetheless retained the possibility of becoming a major threat, and Soviet operations against the Kurland pocket continued until the surrender of Heeresgruppe 'Kurland' on 9 May 1945, when close to 200,000 Germans became prisoners.

The lengthy German defence in the 'Battle of Narva' denied the Soviets the use of Estonia as a base for amphibious operations and air attacks against Helsinki and other Finnish cities, and the Stavka’s hopes of assaulting Finland from Estonia and forcing it into capitulation were thereby diminished. The Finnish commander-in-chief, Sotamarsalkka Carl Gustav Emil Mannerheim, on several occasions reminded the Germans that in the event their troops in Estonia retreated, Finland would be forced to make peace even on extremely unfavourable terms. Thus, the prolonged 'Battle of Narva' helped Finland avoid a Soviet occupation, sustained its capacity for resistance and made it possible for the Finns to enter negotiations for the Moscow Armistice at least partially on their own terms.

The lengthy German defence also prevented a swift Soviet breakthrough into Estonia and gave the underground National Committee of the Republic of Estonia enough time to attempt to re-establish Estonian independence. On 1 August 1944, the national committee pronounced itself Estonia’s highest authority and on 18 September, as acting head of state, Uluots appointed a new government led by Otto Tief. In a radio broadcast, the government declared its neutrality. The government issued two editions of the Riigi Teataja (State Gazette), but did not have the time to distribute them. On 21 September, the national forces seized the government buildings in Toompea, Tallinn and ordered the German forces to leave. The Estonian flag was hoisted at the tower of Pikk Hermann, the tower of Toompea castle in Tallinn, but was removed by the Soviets four days later. The Estonian government-in-exile served to carry the continuity of the Estonian state forward until 1992, when it handed its credentials over to the incoming president of the newly independent state of Estonia.

The delay of the Soviet advance allowed more than 25,000 Estonians and 3,700 Swedes to flee to neutral Sweden and 6,000 Estonians to enter Finland, but thousands of other refugees died on boats and ships sunk in the Baltic Sea. In September, 90,000 soldiers and 85,000 Estonian, Finnish and German refugees and Soviet prisoners of war were evacuated to Germany. The sole German cost of this evacuation was the loss of one ship. More German naval evacuations followed from Estonian ports, in which as many as 1,200 people were drowned in Soviet attacks.

Soviet rule of Estonia was re-established by force, and sovietisation followed, mostly between 1944 and 1950. The forced collectivisation of agriculture began in 1947 and was completed after the deportation of 22,500 Estonians in March 1949. All private farms were confiscated and farmers were made to join the collective farms. Besides the armed resistance of the Forest Brothers, a number of underground nationalist schoolchildren groups were active. Most of their members were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. Punitive actions decreased rapidly after Stalin’s death in 1953, and between 1956 and 1958 many deportees and political prisoners were allowed to return to Estonia. Political arrests and numerous other crimes against humanity were committed throughout the occupation period until the late 1980s. Nevertheless, the attempt to integrate Estonian society into the Soviet system failed. Although the armed resistance was defeated, the population remained anti-Soviet. This helped the Estonians to organise a new resistance movement in the late 1980s, to regain their independence in 1991, and then rapidly to develop a modern society.